To Bring Your Plans to Life, You Need a Dedicated Crew

“Officers and crew of the United States Gerald R. Ford, man our ship and bring her to life!” commanded Susan Ford Bales, daughter of President Ford and sponsor of the newest U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

The command was answered by sailors in crisp, white uniforms peeling off formation and running to man the rails of the newest warship in the U.S. Navy. “Anchors Aweigh” played, horns blared, bells rang out, and the U.S. flag was raised to full mast. Within minutes, the captain was informed that “the ship is manned and ready and reports for duty to the fleet.”

As I watched this emotional ceremony play out this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the powerful message that was being delivered. The imagery, the speeches, and the commands all communicated one point, the crew brings the ship to life.

“A ship is only as good as the people who serve on it.” Donald Trump

As a business leader and former Naval Officer, I know this to be true but sometimes we forget. It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of our business plans, strategic initiatives, and stretch goals. Often we forget, it’s people that bring these plans to life.Without her crew, the $13 billion state-of-the-art nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is nothing but a hunk of cold steel sitting in the harbor. Without a dedicated crew, all our plans our dead as well.

So, how do you get a dedicated crew to bring your plans to life? Let me suggest four important things to consider.

Get people involved in the planning. When people are involved in creating the plans, they have more ownership. Annual off-site planning sessions are a great way to do this. If done right, these sessions can create energy, excitement, and bonding in the team. It also helps to focus the team on the key objectives for the year. To learn more about how to conduct a good annual planning session, see my article 10 Step Guide to Lead your Team into the New Year.

Communicate your plans in a straight-forward manner. I’ve worked for three global companies and one of the things that frustrated me is how they communicated plans. Global companies are complex and their plans are complicated but the communication process shouldn’t be. Using 100+ PowerPoint slides to communicate your vision is not effective. Focus your plans into a handful of important points and use stories to illustrate your message. Doing this will get more people on board.

Seek feedback and be willing to adjust your plans. Rolling out new plans in small groups is an effective way to let teams absorb the message and provide feedback. Listening to feedback is critical for two main reasons. It allows teams to internalize the plan and it allows you to learn things you hadn’t considered. Seeking feedback will help get even more people on board.

Corral the naysayers. Despite your best efforts, there will always be those on your team that don’t buy into the message. It’s important to identify those individuals and meet with them individually. If they have constructive feedback, hear them out. Everyone deals with change differently. If they are simply unwilling to get on board, it might be time to part ways. Naysayers can have a negative impact on morale and can hurt the overall team’s performance. It’s better to deal with the problem than ignore it.

A ship is nothing without her crew and a plan is nothing without people to implement it. If you spend a long time developing a plan, spend twice that amount of effort getting people on board. Without a dedicated crew, your plan is going nowhere. Take the advice from this article and get more people involved in the planning process. Work on a straight-forward communications plan and seek feedback. And most importantly, corral the naysayers. If you do these things, you will bring your plans to life.

What do you think? Have you used these principles in the past? What were the results? What other ideas have worked for getting your team on board? What are some examples of great planning and poor execution? What went wrong? Let me know in the comment section below.

10 Step Guide to Lead your Team into the New Year


If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else. – Yogi Berra

It’s a new year and a fresh start for you and your team. It’s also one of the most important times for you as a leader. While it’s fun reminiscing about 2014, it’s critical that you quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.

Having a clear, concise, well-communicated set of goals for your organization has many benefits:

  • It aligns the team at all levels
  • It focuses the team on the right priorities
  • It sets the benchmark to measure performance
  • It can be used to establish incentives and drive behavior
  • It defines what success looks like in the new year

The problem is that most companies fail to focus on a clear set of goals for the year. David Leonard and Claude Coltea wrote in a recent Gallup article that, “The problem is that in too many companies, front-line employees receive dozens of high-priority messages — some complementary, some competing — from executives, managers, and change leaders each day. These conflicting messages make it difficult for workers to know what tasks or metrics they should focus on during a given day.” This lack of focus creates confusion, added expense, and waste in any organization. This is why annual business planning is extremely important for every organization.

You might be thinking that it’s too late to conduct your planning session for the new year, but it’s actually the perfect time. I like to conduct my annual planning session right after the financial and operational metrics are finalized for the year, usually in mid January. Knowing the final numbers creates the perfect foundation for the planning session. The mid January timing is also good because, at this point, budgets are finalized, top down goals have been established, and mandated programs have already been made known.

The annual planning session is critical in developing a clear and concise set of goals for the new year. Ideally, it can be done in one day and I prefer to go off-site to minimize the disruptions. The session has ten easy steps:

  1. Review last year’s financial performance compared to budget
  2. Review last year’s key metrics compared to goals
  3. Review last year’s key initiatives compared to goals
  4. Conduct an honest assessment of the prior year: What went well? What went wrong? What do you need to more of? What do you need to improve on? What were some of the key lessons from the prior year?
  5. Review the new year’s financial budget and establish stretch targets. Build basic waterfall charts for order and profit growth to reach the stretch objectives
  6. Review any new mandated metrics and initiatives
  7. Develop the new year’s key metric goals
  8. Develop the new year’s list of key initiatives
  9. Get commitment from team
  10. Develop a one-page list of the new year’s goals– Key Financials, Key Metrics, and Key Initiatives to send to the leadership team

The discussions and debates during this process helps build consensus of the key lessons of the prior year as well as an agreement on the way forward in the new year. Being able to debate these issues increases the level of buy-in from team members as well.

The final output, a one-page list of the new year’s goals, becomes the guiding document for the new year. It is important this document is cascaded throughout the entire organization with front-line managers explaining the importance of each element in the plan. If done properly, you will quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.